Keatts: 'It Was Good to Have a Full Roster'
If it looked as though NC State was a different team on Wednesday than the one that played its first five ACC games this season, there's a good reason.
It was a different Wolfpack team.
For only the second time in six conference games -- and the first time since the start of the new year -- coach Kevin Keatts had all nine of his scholarship players available to him. And he put them to good use.
With C.J. Bryce fully recovered from his concussion and big man D.J. Funderburk continuing his recent surge, State pulled away in the second half to beat Miami 80-63 at PNC Arena
Here's what Keatts had to say after the game about what might have been his team's best, most complete performance of the season:
“First of all, I love to say it was good to have a full team and a roster full of guys that can go in the game. I was glad to get C.J. Bryce back, not only because he is our leading scorer, but because it is just good to have him in the locker room. As he was going through his concussion protocol, it was tough to even have him at games and in the locker room. We were in need of some senior leadership on and off the court.
"One thing we talked about is being a star in your role and I'm trying to get everybody to accept what their role is and be able to play as aggressive as they can in their role. On any given night, because we don’t have that one guy that can score 20 every night, somebody else can lead us. I thought D.J. Funderburk was tremendous in his starting role. I wanted to reward him because he had played so great and he did a good job. And I thought Jericole (Hellems) coming off the bench gave us a great lift. He didn't put his head down because he didn’t start. So many guys played well. I was very happy with Devon Daniels. I thought Devon was very aggressive, got to the rim, did some good things, made shot shots. We don’t talk a lot about him on the defensive end.
"We were able to press a little bit more tonight and played a little bit of man-to-man. It helped us guard the 3-point line. A lot of times, teams don’t shoot well against us because we press them and their legs are worn off by the last 4-5 minutes of the game. We haven’t been able to do that. We haven't guarded the 3-point line lately. One of the reasons is because we haven't been able to press. If you look at these guys, they were 3 for 16 and we turned them over 15 times, which I thought was a very good positive for us.
"We came into the game wanting to take away the ‘Big Three’ or at least one of the ‘Big Three’ and I thought we did that. When you look at (leading scorer Kameron) McGusty, he only had two points. We knew that if all three of those guys played well, it would be a long night for us and I thought we did a good job of taking those guys away.”
Obviously, the big story of the night was the return of redshirt senior wing C.J. Bryce, who had a promising return after missing four games with a concussion ... though not with at least one nervous moment when he tried (unsuccessfully) to take a charge shortly after entering the game for the first time ...
“Once he was cleared, I don't worry about him anymore. I just let him play. (That first contact) probably meant more to him than anyone else in that locker room to take a hit and to be able to get up and not feel funny about it. I was begging the referees. I thought it was a charge.”
Beside showing how good the Wolfpack can be when all its pieces are in place, Keatts said that his team's performance against the Hurricanes also showed it was gaining maturity:
"I mentioned before, when our offense was not going, we would struggle. Tonight, we matured a little bit because we relied on our defense even though our offense was scoring. In the last few games when we weren’t scoring, we suffered and gave up too many easy baskets. We talked about building on that. We talked about the maturity of this team.
"It's so tough on us because, and I know a lot of coaches can say this across the country, I haven’t had this full team together for a majority of our losses, which is tough. Because you wonder if you had them, would we have lost the game?’ We wouldn't be able to tell by that. Certainly we want to try to get these guys together, build on it and mature from it. That is what I want this group to do. The ACC comes at you really fast. The games come at your really fast and I need then to grow up."
One player that is growing up quickly is Funderburk. Here's what Keatts had to say about the 6-foot-10 junior, his 19-point, nine-rebound performance Wednesday and his adjustment to the power forward (four) position:
“I think he’s just playing to his potential. I used to tell the assistant coaches all the time, 'Man he's just not in great shape. I think he’s been getting in the gym, putting some extra reps in and getting in better shape. Early in the season I didn't think he could play full stretches. He obviously didn’t play in the Georgia Tech game, but he missed a lot of time because he was suspended and I didn’t let him be around the program. I think that hurt his condition a little bit. I think it's now that he can play long stretches, and he's starting to get into better shape and he's starting to play with confidence. He even hit a three. Is that his first three? First one in conference play, right? I think he was 0 for 6 in conference play, now he’s 1 for 8. Let me see what his assists are. He got one and, oh man, two turnovers."
When someone added that Funderburk had made a "sky hook," referring to the hook shot he made late in the game, Keatts decided to have a little fun.
"Was it a skyhook? Was it the Kareem (Abdul-Jabbar) sky hook? Or just a hook?
Maybe it was a Bill Cartwright hook, a media member chimed in.
"Okay, Keatts replied, "I'll take that. You guys are funny."
Getting back to more serious subjects, the Wolfpack coach said that Wednesday's game was more like what he envisoned from his team after a choppy start to the ACC schedule because of injuries and suspensions:
“I would obviously love to have at least one more guy in the rotation. When we started this season, I was hoping this team would have 10 guys that I could rotate in and out and be able to press the entire game and every time we scored. But I like what we have and I like the nine guys. If I can keep D.J. Funderburk at the four, I think it helps our team a little bit this year.
"That being said, I need Danny Dixon to continue to get better. He’s getting healthy. We don’t talk about him a lot because he doesn’t play a lot of minutes, but he also was hurt, so I wasn't able to play him at the five. I would use D.J. more as a five. So if I can get those guys, Danny, to become more serviceable and do some good things, and him and Manny (Bates) play the five, I can use D.J. a little more at the four.”
Although Keatts started both Funderburk and Bates together for the first time this season, State's best lineup when it broke the game open in the second half was a smaller unit:
“Even though we play (Funderburk) at the four and five, he's a guy that can switch all five screens. So they went kind of small and played (Sam) Waardenburg at the five, we went a little smaller with D.J. at the five and switch more screens. And it was more so that I could get C.J. Bryce some extra minutes to be able to play and try to get some game action a little bit.”